Inside the Capitol

Thursday, January 22, 2009

2-2 Political Quips Worth Quoting

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE – Ever since legislative bodies were created, observers, ranging from philosophers to comedians, have showered us with cynical assessments of these bodies.
Somehow legislatures and Congress always are the easiest to dislike and demean. Their popularity rating always is lowest. Governors and presidents can charm their way along but legislative bodies have no personality. Constituents often like their own legislator but dislike all the rest.
Though the centuries, political quips have been coined, revised and misquoted to give us a rich treasury of political impressions and attitudes. To help you get ready to watch these legislative bodies in action, here are some of my favorite sayings, gleaned from books of quotations, many of which disagree on original sources.
One of the more cutting comments is, "Every once in awhile an innocent man is sent to the legislature." That comes from Frank McKinney (Kin) Hubbard, a writer for the Indianapolis Star about a century ago.
The quote most often heard around the New Mexico Legislature is "People with weak stomachs should never watch laws or sausages being made." That one can be used every day – many times. It has been attributed to many sources. I'll give Prince Otto von Bismarck credit for it because he is the oldest of the sources I've seen and Germans are known for their sausage making.
Bismarck is also credited with saying "Politics is the art of the possible." Absolutists, who feel they must get their total way, are not cut out for politics. An example might be former Gov. Gary Johnson's veto of tax cuts because they weren't big enough.
Members of Congress long have been the target of ribbing. Mark Twain and Will Rogers both liked to go after them. Since these two were such great humorists, many quotations are incorrectly attributed to them.
Quotes I'm reasonably sure they did make are Twain's "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class, except Congress." And "Suppose you were an idiot; and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself." Then there was Rogers' "There is good news from Washington today. Congress is deadlocked and can't act."
On the subject of congressional ethics, former U.S. Rep Charles Mathias contends, "Most of us are honest all the time, and all of us are honest most of the time." Henry Kissinger countered, "Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation."
On the subject of lawmakers obeying their own laws, Sophocles said 25 centuries ago "Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law." Not long ago U.S. Rep Henry Hyde observed, "Congress would exempt itself from the laws of gravity if it could."
But today, Donald M. Fraser notes, "Under current law, it is a crime for a private citizen to lie to a government official, but not for the government to lie to the people." Then Yogi Berra notes, "The public must learn to obey the laws, just like everyone else."
There isn't much love lost between lawmakers and the Supreme Court. Former Justice Charles Evans Hughes charged Congress with being "the biggest law factory the world has ever known." Defending a Nixon Supreme Court nomination, Sen. Roman Hruska maintained, "There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers and they are entitled to a little representation." And then George W. Norris observed, "The people can change Congress, but only God can change the Supreme Court."
Senators often can be more exasperating than House members. Franklin Roosevelt liked to observe "The only way to get anything done in American government is to bypass the Senate."
Former Sen. Bob Dole seemed to agree, saying, "If you're hanging around with nothing to do and the zoo is closed, come over to the Senate. You'll get the same kind of feeling and you won't have to pay."
MON, 2-02-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)

As you no doubt can tell, I'll be away from my desk for a few days, without computer. cell: 505-699-9982. Back Thurs, 1/29.

1-30 More Transparency, Please

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- In keeping with the spirit of the times, this is a message of hope. After visiting several capitol buildings in other states and after talking with visitors to our Capitol, New Mexicans have good reason for pride.
A warm, friendly atmosphere permeates the gathering spaces of our Capitol, where amateur and professional lobbyists mix with those who have come just to take a look.
Access to legislators is extremely easy, especially if you happen to be a constituent. New Mexico's lawmakers are not full of themselves. They have not built an imposing Capitol Building. It is so unimposing, it is hard to find. But once inside, it turns into the most beautiful state capitol in the nation, full of artwork, all by New Mexicans.
Our Capitol is user-friendly, with information booths, electronic kiosks for the younger generation, and good signage. Committee hearing rooms are comfortable, although sometimes crowded. And committee chairmen are nearly always gracious to guests. If you have something to say, chances are you will get to say it.
Our lawmakers also are nice to each other. They don't hurl accusations as you see on televised congressional hearings. But a word of warning, if you get an opportunity to say something, don't you make accusations either.
With so much to be proud of, then, why doesn't the New Mexico Legislature want to show it off? For several years, lawmakers have been promising to televise legislative sessions, but every year it gets postponed.
For over a decade, bills have been introduced to open up conference committees, not to television cameras, just to the public and reporters -- and to other legislators.
That's right. Except for the six lawmakers who form a conference committee to iron out differences between the House and Senate, the other 106 lawmakers don't know what is going on behind those closed doors. They are as much in the dark as the public is.
Openness, disclosure and transparency give the public more confidence in the people they elect to represent them. More confidence, that is, in the ones who are playing it straight.
My experience from 30 years of representing school employees before governmental bodies convinced me that the vast majority of our elected officials are straight shooters.
So why don't ethics reform bills, as they are called, pass with similarly large majorities? There may be some valid reasons but it makes the good guys look like they have something to hide also.
The answer likely is that it is quicker and easier to work behind closed doors and reveal only what you have to. No one ever said democracy is simple. Dictatorships are much more efficient. The only question is "efficient at what?"
Our legislative chambers have large galleries where citizens, lobbyists, reporters and school children come to watch. So why not a television camera too? Lawmakers are well-behaved. They don't do anything to embarrass themselves. They are even given time to introduce constituents who have traveled to Santa Fe to witness the proceedings.
A week before this legislative session convened, Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Steve Terrell reported seeing a Capitol maintenance worker taking down cameras in the Senate gallery that had been purchased for the purpose of Webcasting Senate floor sessions.
Last year the Senate voted overwhelmingly to appropriate $30,000 for the cameras but Senate leaders somehow overrode their wishes. Terrell says New Mexico is one of only six states that don't Webcast at least some legislative proceedings.
New Mexico New Mexico lawmakers have much to be proud about but for some reason they don't want to share it with others. They blame the budget crunch but the cost isn't much. Many local governments manage to do it.
Here's hoping New Mexico lawmakers will see the light. Politicians sometimes fret about media bias. Here's their chance for you to watch and make up your own minds.
FRI, 1-30-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


1-28 The West Comes to Santa Fe

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- If you come to Santa Fe during this legislative session, you may see something you'd never expect. A replica of an 1860s stagecoach now takes visitors through the streets of downtown Santa Fe.
Wild West is not the first thing that comes to people's minds when thinking about Santa Fe. With a Spanish heritage that goes back 400 years and an Indian heritage going back over a thousand years, a 150-year Western heritage doesn't get any attention in the City Different.
But Santa Fe has a Wild West history that would be the envy of most any other community in the West. Billy the Kid has his footprints all over town. The notorious Santa Fe Ring that owned and ran the state for decades had its headquarters on the entire block east of the plaza. And numerous desperados hung out here.
Allowing a stagecoach to be pulled through streets near the newly redone Santa Fe Railyard is at least a gesture from the city toward recognizing a third culture that took hold after New Mexico became a territory of the United States.
The stagecoach, drawn by two horses, offers 30-minute rides through a limited downtown area. The ride is preceded by a 10-minute talk about the history of the area.
I haven't gotten to hear the history presentation yet but my hope is that it concentrates on the area's Western heritage. There are plenty of places to hear about Santa Fe's Indian and Spanish history. At this point, the carriages run Tuesday through Saturday and cost $25 a person.
Following are some of the Wild West stops a Santa Fe stagecoach tour could take visitors. Locals also would enjoy it because far less than one percent of Santa Feans know anything about these historical sights.
Presbyterian Church where Billy the Kid's mother and step father were married. Billy and his brother stood with them. Building on Canyon Road where Billy went to grammar school. Jail, where Billy was held years later, awaiting Mesilla trial for killing Sheriff Brady.
It was from this jail that Billy wrote his famous letters beseeching Gov. Lew Wallace to pardon him. Wallace had promised the pardon in return for Billy's testimony against a suspect in another murder trial.
Billy upheld his end of the bargain. Wallace would only have had to walk a few blocks from the Palace of the Governors to talk with Billy who was being held near the corner of Galisteo and Water streets.
Diagonally across from Wallace's office and residence in the Palace of the Governors is the Catron Building with large engraved letters saying "Catron Block."
At that time, lawyer Thomas Benton Catron owned the entire block, which served as headquarters of the Santa Fe Ring, which owned and ran much of the state and its politics.
The Santa Fe Ring backed the crooked merchants and politicians in Lincoln County that were being opposed by a new group for which Billy worked.
That group was headed by lawyer Alexander McSween and English rancher John Tunstall, who were introduced to each other while dining at the Exchange Hotel, which was located where the La Fonda Hotel not sits.
This may be too broad an area for a horse drawn stage amongst erratic traffic. Maybe a motorized tram modified to look much like a stage could complete this circuit and venture out farther to include Fairview Cemetery and the Odd Fellows Cemetery to see the mausoleum of Thomas Catron and the gravesites of Sam Ketchum and other notorious outlaws of the time.
A few years ago, the Western Outlaw and Lawmen Association met in Santa Fe. They were aware of Santa Fe's Western heritage and wanted to see the various sites but they haven't been preserved and the ones that still exist aren't being showcased.
The one plaque purporting to commemorate Santa Fe's Western history is on a building at 208 W. San Francisco. Unfortunately it is incorrect. Santa Fe can do better.
WED, 12-28-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

1-26 Quick Start for Lawmakers?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico's 60-day "long" legislative sessions always get off to slow starts. "But not this year" say some legislative leaders.
The necessity of cutting budgets for both this year and next makes the 2009 Legislature a new ballgame. House Speaker Ben Lujan says he wants to work out the cuts to this year's budget during the first two weeks of the session. By doing that, we'll have a starting point to move on to next year's budget.
It might work, but there are problems. The current budget deficit is a moving target. Senate Finance Committee chairman John Arthur Smith notes our economy still is headed downhill, meaning the deficit will grow even larger.
No cut in this year's budget will be easy. The cuts all belong to people who fought long and hard to get each of those items funded originally. Some of those projects belong to political leaders, including Gov. Richardson, or to powerful interest groups that will fight their removal.
Speaker Lujan is a powerful leader himself so he may be able to make it happen in the House. But the Senate always is more difficult. The main reason is that no leadership post in the Senate is as powerful as the speaker of the House.
The lieutenant governor presides over the Senate but has no power other than to break tie votes. The remainder of what would be a speaker's power is divided among numerous Senate leadership positions.
Instead of one person calling the shots, it is a group, which first must reach agreement. The Senate leadership battle that began this session is prime evidence of the problems divided authority produces.
This budget crisis is being called the worst in our state's history. I doubt that is true. It is the worst in most people's memory. But there are some of us who have had an opportunity to build longer memories than most.
The 1983 Legislature began with a budget crisis that had become apparent only two months earlier. Gov. Toney Anaya and legislators elected in November had no idea on election night what they were about to face.
It hit like a ton of bricks and no one was prepared. Currently our political leaders are promising no tax increases will be necessary in order for the state to have its books in balance at the end of the fiscal year. That wasn't the case 25 years ago.
As state budget crises go, the stories I hear about the 1935 legislature top them all. That Legislature had to revamp the state's entire taxation system in order to keep the state afloat and to prevent massive foreclosures on property.
That likely was the state's biggest budget crisis. But other factors are present that easily could add to this session's crisis atmosphere. The College of Santa Fe, a private, Catholic, four-year institution, has been seeking a take-over by other private schools because of major financial difficulties.
When nothing could be worked out, the college threw itself on the mercy of the state higher education system. Highlands University, in Las Vegas, wants to take it over. That would require major financial assistance from the state. Influential politicos support the move.
Animosities over the Senate leadership battle are likely to fester and influence the operation of that body.
Nineteen new lawmakers will be part of this session. Many were elected as "progressives" and come bearing new ideas for additions to educational and social services.
Gov. Richardson has ordered the Department of Public Safety not to release background checks on his high-level appointees. Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez says a lack of good information on appointees will slow down confirmations.
The energy crisis has increased the acceptance for more drilling among political leaders. It would help New Mexico's economy but environmentalists are determined to make it more difficult to drill.
MON, 1-26-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


1-26 Quick Start for Lawmakers?


1-23 Richardson, Obama Seek to Mend Fences

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Seldom do New Mexicans get to digest a presidential inaugural address and a gubernatorial state of the state address both in one day. But this was a special year.
It was difficult to focus on Gov. Bill Richardson's opening speech to the New Mexico Legislature amid the day-long coverage of the inaugural in Washington.
In fact, it was difficult for anyone outside Santa Fe to see the speech. Albuquerque's Public Broadcasting System station carried it but with no promotion and no commentary.
Webcasting was supposed to be available this year but a handful of legislative leaders killed the project despite overwhelming support from rank and file lawmakers.
Gov. Richardson received an enthusiastic standing ovation when he entered the House chamber for his speech. It was a better reception than some had expected.
The governor acknowledged the situation in his opening remarks, saying, "I know there are some legislators who were looking forward to my departure. I'm sorry to disappoint you but I'll try to make it up to you somehow."
The remark diffused some tension but what did those last eight words mean? They didn't mean he would stop hitting them with more bold initiatives despite a sinking economy.
Richardson termed this year "The Year of Fiscal Restraint" and he proposed $450 million of budget cuts. But then he issued a call to action on a broad range of issues.
His efforts won't be helped by the reelection of Sen. Tim Jennings as president pro tem of the Senate. The two have clashed frequently and that is not going to end.
Jennings has promised that despite throwing in with Republicans to keep his seat, there won't be the animosities that were produced by previous coalition takeovers. This could well prove to be the check and balance a one-party government needs.
That would be good for fiscal restraint But it almost surely means continued Senate slaughter of governmental ethics, transparency and other reform legislation.
Both Richardson's and President Barack Obama's speeches were tempered with the gravity of present financial conditions but Obama's contained more life and optimism.
Possibly it reflected the difference between a man beginning a honeymoon with the nation, the world, and Congress and a man who finds himself even more of a lame duck than normal at this point.
Might Richardson be thinking of making up to the Legislature for his continued presence by leaving before the end of his term even if it's not for a spot in the Obama administration?
Even if it is true, Richardson is making attempts to patch up wounds by reaching out to past foes, including Sen. Jennings, whom he congratulated on retaining his leadership post.
But it would be hard to top the hand that President Obama has extended to his former rivals, whom he has put at the very top of his administration.
Although GOP opponent John McCain will hold no post in the Obama administration, it appears he will be a key player. When has an incoming president ever held an appreciation dinner for his opponent the night before his inauguration? And then Obama chief of staff Raum Emanuel sat next to McCain at the inauguration luncheon.
It is a well-deserved recognition of McCain's bipartisanship. Once he was free of his handlers, and sometimes even before, McCain was gracious toward Obama.
And the same is true of President Bush. This was likely the smoothest transition ever. Bush may have decided on that during the especially acrimonious transition from President Clinton.
Obama's attempts at reaching across the aisle are unprecedented. It was reported that he was the first president ever to walk the past president to his helicopter after the inauguration.
The bipartisan effort even seems to be working on congressional GOP leaders. After voting against the first item in Obama's stimulus package on Monday, many of them had nice things to say about it afterwards.
FRI, 1-23-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Sunday, January 18, 2009

1-21 Governor and President Shared Yesterday's Spotlight

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexicans got a big taste of high politics yesterday as President Barack Obama delivered his inaugural address followed by Gov. Bill Richardson's State of the State address.
Obama's speech was a bit more upbeat, which inaugural addresses need to be. Richardson had to be more cautious. After six years of burgeoning revenues, this was his first experience with a sharply declining state income.
Richardson credited himself with responsibly handling those big revenue increases, which makes the cutbacks possible without huge impact. But he has to know that any cuts are going to be greeted with stiff resistance.
Making the job even harder, the governor and Legislature must come up with cuts to this year's budget, which ends June 30 and to next year's budget beginning July 1.
Richardson initially said he wanted to make the cuts without affecting education since that is the state's primary responsibility. But he soon amended the statement, noting that public schools and colleges comprise two-thirds of the state's general fund budget.
But where does one cut education? Richardson's proposals are bound to be controversial because he immediately tread into sacred territory. After years of trying to extend the school year and reduce class size, that's where he went for his cuts.
The governor tried to soften the blow by calling the cuts temporary. But we all know that temporary often tends to become very permanent. Those in my generation remember when World War II barracks buildings were called temporary. We still see them 60 years later.
Another source of cuts that is going to be painful is the capital outlay projects that have been authorized over the years but never utilized because of construction delays, lack of matching funds or construction cost increases.
It is a logical place to go for emergency funds but likely all lawmakers have some project money that remains unused and to them the funds are sacred. The governor is the one proposing the use of capital project funds. To convince lawmakers, he needs to find some of his own unstarted projects to cut too.
There may be another problem. These pork projects use three different sources of funding. Some are financed with surplus money and some with severance tax bonds. But school and senior citizen projects usually are financed with bonds that voters authorize.
Is it legal for the Legislature to "deauthorize" projects approved by the public?
State officials are hoping that federal stimulus funds will become available in time to bail out some of these projects. The state doesn't want to use any of its "rainy day' reserves this year because they are already in use getting better interest rates on bonds.
Besides the budget, lawmakers will be asked to pass the ethics reforms they've been ignoring for years. Nearly every year something happens to make ethics appear to be a "must do." But every year there is a new excuse to forget about it.
Ignoring ethics reforms this year will be especially embarrassing but Senate leaders will find a way.
This will be a 60-day "long" session so any subject is fair game. Several new "progressives" have been elected. With all the cut-backs, they won't be able to introduce the new spending programs they had in mind but look for them to try some initiatives such as eliminating the death penalty, gay rights and animal rights.
An additional appropriation should be directed to the Department of Workforce Solutions for additional staff, phone lines and bandwidth to handle unemployment claims.
Many of these items will be introduced today and tomorrow, two of the biggest days for bill introductions. Friday will be the last opportunity for many lawmakers from the far reaches of the state to get home for a weekend. It is tradition to take the first Friday off while the crush of bills is being printed.
And woe be to the cub reporter who criticizes lawmakers for the practice.
WED, 1-21-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

1-19 Obama & Clinton Inaurural Similarities

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- In many ways, the inaugurations of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton bear striking resemblances. Obama is a cool dude, delivering a message of hope. Clinton was a cool dude delivering a message from Hope, Arkansas, his birthplace.
My wife, Jeanette, and I attended Clinton's first inaugural in 1993. Jeanette worked for First Lady Alice King so we had the opportunity to purchase VIP tickets to many events. We figured it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Gov. Bruce King had become a good friend of Clinton's during the many years both had been governors. And since Bruce didn't want a job, primo tickets for his entourage was about all he asked.
We went back to Washington early. The feeling was much the same as it is now. We had a new, young president whose appeal extended much wider than previous Democratic candidates. It was supposed to be the biggest inaugural ever and we wanted to see it up close.
The night before the inauguration, we went with friends to a fancy Washington restaurant. As the meal was ending, our waiter said we would have to hurry because a private party was taking over the place in 15 minutes.
Somehow we didn't hurry fast enough so we got caught up in the rush of partygoers coming in the door. So we stayed. Oh, darn.
The party was thrown by James Carville, who had been the chief strategist for the Clinton campaign. Soon after it started, Carville's girl friend, Republican strategist Mary Matalin made the statement to friends that she was going to switch her registration to Democrat.
I happened to be very close by and told her I overheard her remark and asked if I could print it. She said yes and then came back later to say, "Go right ahead."
Maybe it was the euphoria pervading Washington at the time that overcame Matalin. She didn't become a Democrat. She's still a top GOP strategist. But she did become Carville's wife and they now have two children.
The next morning, we got up early and walked 20 blocks to a Senate office building for a stand up breakfast sponsored by the New Mexico Society, a bipartisan group of displaced New Mexicans in the Washington area.
At 10 a.m., we walked the short distance to the Mall to find our area to watch the swearing in. The gates had opened at 9 a.m. for the 11:30 event so even though we were in one of the closest areas to the stage, we were far from it.
After standing in the cold for over an hour, we decided we wouldn't be able to see enough to be worthwhile so we left and headed along Pennsylvania Ave. toward our parade viewing bleachers. We found a small restaurant with a TV, where we could sit down, warm up, eat and watch the swearing in on TV.
When the program ended, after 12:30, we continued on toward the White House. Our tickets said to be in our seats by 1 p.m. Our bleachers turned out to be in front of the White House, next to the president's tent, a large, clear, heated, plastic enclosure.
It was the seating area for governors. Even though it was after 1 p.m., we were some of the first there because we didn't have as far to walk. It felt good to sit. Most parade viewers would have to stand. We were up about 15 feet, with a great view but the breeze, beneath the bleachers made it even colder.
The front of the parade, with the Clintons, didn't get to us until nearly 4 p.m. It was dark by the time the parade ended and time for a 10-block walk down 16th St. to our hotel.
We'd been on our first ocean cruise the previous week. We joked that if we froze to death, our bodies would be the best tanned in the morgue.
We donned our formal attire and managed to catch a cab to the Arkansas Ball. It was too crowded to get near the food, drinks, coat check or a chair but we'd scored tickets to the most prestigious ball in town. And we heard the president play his sax.
MON, 1-19-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Monday, January 12, 2009

1-16 Tips for Surviving Inauguration Day

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Presidential inaugurations always are big deals. From all reports, this year's inaugural will top them all in terms of numbers of people and events.
Upwards of 2 million are expected at this inaugural. It no longer is a one-day event. It is spread out over four days. The first of the balls will be held this evening, Jan. 16. It will be a "Welcome to Washington" black tie gala at Union Station, a few blocks from the Capitol.
The galas continue, over 70 of them, through inauguration night when 10 official balls and 29 other galas will be held.
To help handle the millions of visitors, the inaugural committee will have a team of 18,000 volunteers. That's more than three times the number needed for any other inauguration. It wasn't hard to find them. Over 60,000 applied.
The number of security forces will be incredible. For the first time military personnel will supplement the Secret Service and officers from 57 other local and federal agencies. Total military involved will be over 11,000. District of Columbia police will number 8,000.
For those of you who plan to attend, and who haven't left already, here are some suggestions. You may already have read or heard much of it but this comes from experience. My wife and I attended the 1993 Clinton inaugural, which was said to be the largest up to then.
If you are going to attend the swearing in, the parade and a ball on Inauguration Day, you must be in reasonably good shape. You will need to walk almost everywhere. Roads near the ceremonies will be blocked. Taxis will be almost impossible to find.
The Metro subway system is the only way to get close. And that only gets you close. The Capitol area is very spread out. The battle to get on Metro train cars is vicious. Doors often jam, and trains don't move, because of the number of people trying to squeeze on.
It will be cold and you will be in it for many hours, standing up. Average Jan. 20 high temperature is mid-30s. It sometimes rains and occasionally snows.
President William Henry Harrison gave an hour and 45 minute inaugural speech in the snow and died of pneumonia a month later. And that was back when inaugurals were held on March 4.
For us desert rats, unless you grew up going to Green Bay, Buffalo or New England football games, you are going to be very uncomfortable. Buy some long johns.
The swearing in ceremony begins about 11:30 so the oath can be taken at high noon. A band begins playing at 10 a.m., unless their instruments freeze.
Unless you are a member of Congress or in the president's cabinet, you won't be able to see what is going on. You'll be standing in a roped off area down the Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial. There are loud speakers and this year, for the first time, big screens for you to watch it on.
My advice is that if you can move, get out of there. Find a little restaurant along Pennsylvania Avenue to sit down, get warm and have a bite to eat.
That's the street the parade is on. People begin lining up at 7 a.m. so it will be difficult to move there too. The parade supposedly starts at 2 p.m. But it doesn't. The president and Congress go to Statuary Hall, in the Capitol Building, after the swearing in, for lunch and they won't finish on time.
There is a very long list of items you can't have during the swearing in and parade. It includes all those items you can't take on a plane or into a ballgame plus strollers, backpacks, thermoses, signs or poles. The list also should include children and old people.
The balls are equally crowded. Don't plan on dancing, eating, drinking, checking your coat or going to the powder room. All are available but inaccessible.
If you check your coat, you won't get it back when you want it and maybe not at all. If you go to the powder room, you may not get back in. But it's a great place to see and be seen
FRI, 1-16-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


1-14 Spaceport America Nears Reality

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Spaceport America, north of Las Cruces, took some major steps toward becoming a reality during the past month. Now it's up to a Legislature, in a year of inadequate resources, to finish the job of financing during the next two months.
In mid-December, the spaceport finally obtained its federal license. Five states -- Texas, California, Oklahoma, Florida and Missouri -- beat us to the certification. But that was because those spaceports are additions to facilities that already exist.
Spaceport America is the first spaceport built from scratch and intended to be totally a spaceport. That meant starting from scratch on the license too with time consuming elements such as land acquisition, environmental impact statements and the like.
The next big step was signing a formal lease agreement with the spaceport's anchor tenant Virgin Galactic. Sir Richard Branson's company had been talking big since January 2006 when it announced New Mexico as its base of operations to fly passengers to the edge of space at $200,000 a pop.
But it hadn't been willing to put its name on the dotted line. It promised to sign a lease if Dona Ana County passed a tax assessment to support the spaceport. Dona Ana County delivered on its end of the deal but Virgin signed only a non-binding memorandum of understanding.
So both the Dona Ana County Commission and the state Legislature made their participation contingent on Virgin signing by Dec. 31, 2008. And that's the date when the 20-year lease was signed.
It may not appear that Sir Richard is feeling very lionhearted about Spaceport America. But more likely, he wanted to be as sure as possible that the state of New Mexico would come through on its end of the deal.
There is still another $75 million or so that needs to be appropriated by the Legislature in a year in which it needs to trim a half-billion dollars out of its budget. And with our governor playing musical chairs with his office, who can be sure that a deal will be a deal?
Branson didn't become a multi-billionaire by taking dumb risks. But now, it appears the stars are about to align. It would be foolish for the Legislature not to come through with the rest of the money at this point. The architects' drawings are finished. A contractor has been chosen and ground is to be broken in early spring.
Judging from comments after the lease signing, Virgin officials are delighted. Their news release announced "The state has all the right elements for a successful commercial space operation, including weather, clear airspace, beautiful scenery, great people and a fantastic location and design for Spaceport America."
There is more good news. Other space companies already have been using temporary facilities at the spaceport and are likely to sign leases now that a giant operation has signed on as anchor tenant.
UP Aerospace and Microgravity Enterprise have signed memoranda of understanding. UP Aerospace has already made two successful launches from the spaceport. Armadillo Aerospace and Rocket Racing, Inc. have just announced a partnership to offer vertically-launched suborbital flights from Spaceport America for about $100,000 a ticket.
Disappointments have been few. Voters in Otero County narrowly defeated a tax election that would have put $6.6 million into the spaceport. Alamogordo is on the other side of the White Sands Missile Range and is space-oriented but the two-hour drive in between makes it a little distant to get much benefit.
Starchaser Industries came in with big plans for rocket manufacturing, astronaut training facilities and a theme park near Las Cruses but cooled off when it decided the state was too fixated on Virgin Galactic. It also wasn't forthcoming with the financial records city officials requested before giving it land in an industrial park.
And the much heralded Rocket Racing League hasn't gotten all the sponsors it needs. The current economic climate won't help that.
But everything considered, it appears we're good to go.
WED, 1-14-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Sunday, January 11, 2009

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    Friday, January 09, 2009

    1-12 Denish Accustomed to Changing Fortunes

    Syndicated Columnist

    SANTA FE – I've told you this one before but it is even more appropriate now. It illustrates how politics works, anywhere, at the most basic level.
    It was 1994. Gov. Bruce King was running for a second consecutive term. Lt. Gov. Casey Luna had left the fold. Patricia Madrid and Diane Denish were the leading contenders to replace Casey.
    On primary election night, Democrats met at the Hilton Inn, by the Big I, in Albuquerque. Much of the interest centered on the close race for lieutenant governor. Both candidates had big hospitality rooms.
    My wife Jeanette and I checked out the Madrid hospitality room. She was ahead at the time and it was packed. So we kept walking, figuring Denish's room wouldn't be as crowded and she probably needed cheering up.
    We walked into a nearly deserted room and had Diane's full attention. We sat on the sofa and soon were greeted by television news that Denish had jumped into the lead.
    Suddenly there was a rumbling in the hallway as dozens of well-wishers charged into the room to let Denish know how hard they had worked for her during the primary.
    Wanting to escape the crush, we returned to Madrid's room, which no longer was congested. We had a nice chat with the candidate until the TV reporter announced that a clerical error had reversed the results from a northern county and that Madrid was still in the lead.
    You can guess the rest. The thundering herd returned, with the same faces at the front of the line. In a 20 minute period the sea had changed twice.
    Fast-forward fourteen-and-a-half years and Diane Denish is a major player again. This time, instead of 20 minutes in the sun, it was a month that politicos had to stream from Bill Richardson to Denish.
    That's a long time. Denish likes to say a day can be a lifetime in politics. Hundreds of people Richardson rewarded with jobs were busy pledging their next 10 years to Denish.
    Thousands more had time to become very comfortable with the feeling of moving from Richardson's style of running government to Denish's. And that was pretty typical with New Mexicans in general.
    Now it's all over. Bill's back. And he's going to be with us a heck of a lot more than he has been the past two years. How is he going to take it? How are we going to take it?
    Is Big Bill going to make a list of who's been naughty and nice? What about those who already had resigned their state jobs? What about those who already had moved to Washington and plunked down money on apartment leases?
    Someone said it's like divorcing a spouse and then finding out the deal's off and you have to live together another two years. How will we handle it? It will be a little awkward, to say the least.
    With the state facing a major economic crisis, looking at some painful cuts, it's a tough time to have an uneasiness at the top.
    In the state legislature, Majority leader Michael Sanchez says, "Everyone was thinking Gov. Richardson would be gone. Now that he's back, things are not quite the same."
    Adding to the possible unsteadiness of the coming session, Senate leader Tim Jennings, of Roswell, jilted by his own party, is out romancing Republicans, hoping to retain his position.
    Richardson's withdrawal also is causing uneasiness in Washington with finger-pointing between the Obama and Richardson camps over whether Richardson was sufficiently forthcoming or whether the Obama staff didn't follow up.
    If Richardson stays, Denish could be the person hurt worst by this turn of events. Many saw her as a breathe of fresh air. Almost two years of experience could have made her a strong incumbent in her 2010 gubernatorial run.
    But two years in an awkward situation could give Republicans ammunition for a strong challenge.
    MON, 1-12-08

    JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
    (ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


    Wednesday, January 07, 2009

    1-9 Whimsical Float Theme Wins

    Syndicated Columnist
    SANTA FE -- Humor carried the day again for New Mexico in the 2009 Rose Parade. Our float, depicting Wile E. Coyote rocketing down Route 66 after New Mexico's state bird was selected by judges for the Bob Hope Humor Award.
    It's the second year in a row that a whimsical theme has won an award for New Mexico. Traditionalists were mortified last year when the state Tourism Department selected a topic promoting New Mexico's Spaceport America, with an assist by three little green men from Roswell.
    Judges selected it for the Grand Marshal's Award, one of the three top prizes. It was awarded for excellence in creative concept and design. That's pretty good, considering we were in competition with much larger and more elaborate floats.
    This year's award was for being the most comical and amusing in the parade. Volunteers, who traveled to Pasadena at their own expense to decorate New Mexico's float, report that spirits were high during the five days of work. Not only was the theme a lot of fun, they said, but everyone seemed sure the float would win a prize.
    So what's the big deal with winning a prize in the Rose Parade? It's just a group of judges who liked it. But if they liked it, the million people who watched the parade in person probably did also and some will decide that New Mexico looks like a fun place to visit.
    Or their children will think it's a fun place. Our children seemed to plan most of our vacations. And since L.A. children live next door to Disneyland, they might want to visit some place different.
    We've learned, however, that one problem is the kids of today don't know about Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons, or Bugs Bunny or any of the other wonderful characters with whom their parents and grandparents grew up.
    Our solution has been to buy our grandchildren DVDs of the old cartoons so we can sit and watch them together. It's a good experience and it slows them down for about 30 minutes.
    Besides the million people along the parade route, an estimated 40 million more Americans watch on television, plus no telling how many on networks in the 150 foreign countries where it is shown.
    State Tourism Secretary Mike Cerletti claims New Mexico gets an estimated $1 million in exposure for only about $200,000, some of which is paid by sponsors from New Mexico.
    This year's sponsors were the Albuquerque and Santa Fe convention and visitors bureaus, the towns of Taos and Red River, Isleta Casino and Resort, Santa Fe Brewing Company, Vivac Winery, El Pinto Restaurant, ESPN and the New Mexico state parks.
    Numerous events are scheduled in Southern California for sponsors to attend during the week of parade activities. All of the events are designed for sponsors to interact with travel writers and potential clients.
    Prize winning floats raise the spirits of volunteer workers who come in from all over the state. If you've ever worked on a float, you know that you build up a feeling that it had better win. It also helps get volunteers back again the next year.
    Will there be another New Mexico float again next year? Cerletti thinks it is the biggest bang we get for our advertising buck. Until earlier this week, it appeared that Cerletti might not be back next year.
    Tourism is a part of the Department of Commerce, so there was a chance he would go to Washington. And there was a chance Cerletti might not be held over by a Denish administration.
    But with the possibility of a little more stability in our state government, the same people may be making the same decisions next year.
    Can New Mexico come up with a third great idea in a row for next year? Yes. Raul Rodriguez and Tim Estes of Fiesta Floats International are the creative geniuses who are sure to be back with us again..
    FRI, 1-09-09

    JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
    (ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


    Monday, January 05, 2009

    1-7 Gov's Withdrawal Creates Questions


    SANTA FE - There is much we don't know about Gov. Bill Richardson's withdrawal of his nomination to be secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department.
    One thing we do know is that I've already missed on one of my 2009 predictions. I said 2009 would be as unpredictable as 2008. That was easy, considering all the stuff coming down these days.
    But I also predicted that Gov. Richardson would be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, although not as quickly as Democratic leaders were planning. Republican senators had given indication that they wanted to slow down a process aimed at beginning hearings this week and getting floor votes on cabinet secretaries soon after the inauguration.
    Republican leaders said they wanted to cooperate but that the Democratic timetable would preclude adequate hearings on the nominees. It appears to me that Barack Obama's team decided to stick with its fast-forward timetable and that the grand jury investigation involving Richardson would be a drag.
    Richardson was expendable so he was thrown under the bus. It just doesn't sound like our governor to back away from such an opportunity. Obama hinted that maybe Richardson could catch up later.
    Both Richardson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish echoed that possibility. In fact Denish couched it as a probability, saying it was only a temporary postponement in Richardson's departure.
    But what are the chances of Obama soon having an opening that Richardson would want? At this time last year, our governor wanted to be president. Then it was vice president, than secretary of State and then Commerce secretary, which many saw as a consolation prize. Would he take any job just to get back to Washington? He couldn't without hurting his political reputation.
    But then Richardson's reputation could be hurt irreparably by the investigation. My original prediction that it wouldn't hurt him was based on knowing that the Obama camp was aware an investigation was underway into a California company that received a big contract with the state of New Mexico shortly after making large contributions to political committees Richardson had founded.
    That federal investigation had been underway since July and there were no indications that Richardson was directly involved. There certainly were no indications that he had profited. If just doing business with your friends were a crime, most of the nation would be in jail.
    So why is the investigation being stepped up? Was it in order to be able to give the Senate Commerce Committee more information? Some have drawn parallels between this situation and the apparent Justice Department effort to encourage U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to prosecute more Democrats.
    We may never know. Conspiracy theories abound. Are the Clintons behind Richardson's withdrawal? It would be the ultimate payback.
    How will the Democrat Congress react? Will it blame Richardson's withdrawal on Republicans? Some hope this will convince congressional Democrats to look into the no bid contracts for the Iraq war awarded to Halliburton.
    It is not likely. President-Elect Obama has indicated a desire to bring civility back to Washington and united action to our nation.
    Richardson's withdrawal has at least one positive aspect. We were on course for a horrendous 2009 Legislature. Richardson was going to be governor for half the session and Denish would take over for the second half.
    Gov. Richardson had indicated that he was still in control and making the legislative decisions. That meant Denish would have taken over initiatives to which she wasn't necessarily committed.
    Lawmakers would have seen no value in working with a complete lame duck. As lieutenant governor, Denish presides over the sometimes rebellious Senate, which would be much more likely to work with her than Richardson.
    That appears to be behind us now but relationships still will be awkward. For the past month state government has been saying good-bye to Richardson and hello to Denish. It will be difficult to undo that.
    Despite being damaged, Richardson will still want to control but Denish and others may want to establish some distance from him.

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